U.S. Army Reserves Captain Boyd Melson is a 2003 West Point graduate, a former member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, a four-time All-Army boxing champion, a three-time Armed Forces champion and the 2004 World Military Champion. However, it is his role as soldier for spinal cord injury research that has been his most impactful fight. This 31-year old light middleweight donates the entire purse of his professional bouts to assist with funding for a pending clinical trial that could potentially cure such injuries and free those who are trapped in wheelchairs.
Melson was born to an Israeli mother whose parents were Holocaust survivors and a French Creole father who instilled and reinforced a deep sense of pride in being a strong black man throughout his life. Melson drew from his family's strength, attributing his passion for life and fighting spirit to his upbringing.
"I just grew up always liking contact and always testing the limits to see what I could get away with," the fighter said.
Despite his relatively late introduction to boxing through a mandatory physical education class while in his freshman year at West Point, Melson quickly took to the sport and became a decorated amateur star. He participated in a number of tournaments during his five year military career and competed against some of the world’s most heralded boxers, including future pro standouts Keith Thurman (twice), Charles Hatley (twice), Demetrius Andrade, Deandre Latimore, Danny Jacobs and Adam Trupish.
Additionally, his glowing resume includes losses to current world champion Austin Trout in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials (after Melson had only seven matches outside of college at the time) and rising star Erislandy Lara in the 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships. Melson discontinued boxing after he was forced to withdraw as an alternate from the 2008 U.S. Olympic team due to a shoulder injury.
While he was boxing, Melson enjoyed the aspect of self-reliance during a fight. He also responded well to the unique internal challenges that a boxer faces while in the ring and possessed an ability to convey them in such a way that others could understand, a quality that would serve him quite well beyond boxing in his later years.
"I can speak and share what we're going through in a way that other people can understand, who aren't that physically oriented and may be a little more academic, and vice versa. I just followed along with it and it took me down this path to where I am right now," Melson reflected.
The path started when the fighter met Christan Zaccagnino on June 22, 2002 after he completed his junior year at West Point. A diving accident in her backyard swimming pool at the age of 10 left Zaccagnino paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Melson, who was drawn to the attractive young woman's toughness and heart, began dating Zaccagnino and joined in the crusade to help her walk again.
Melson worked tirelessly to educate himself on spinal cord injuries and stem cell research. He traveled with Zaccagnino to Jordan, Mexico and twice to China so she could undergo experimental procedures that are not currently offered in the United States. While abroad, they were exposed to the vast expansion of work being done in this field that does not involve the use of embryonic stem cells.
The SCINet USA organization led by Dr. Wise Young, lead advisor to Christopher Reeve after his tragic 1995 accident, has completed a study of clinical trials conducted in China where cells from umbilical cords removed after birth from newborns are used to help potentially regenerate the spinal cord. The aim is to publish these findings and conduct similar trials in the United States as the fight to find a cure continues.
A full-time medical device sales representative for Johnson & Johnson and a captain in the Army Reserves, Melson decided to join the fight in his own way. He turned pro in 2010 as a means to raise money for this trial to be done in the United States, with funds currently being raised through public donations.
"I got tired of feeling helpless in terms of being able to help Christan," admitted Melson.
His selfless return to the ring has helped raise both money and awareness, donating his entire purse over the course of his two-year career (totaling $20,000) to justadollarplease.org, the fundraising arm of SCINetUSA. Melson also speaks after fights to ask the crowd to help by making donations and Golden Boy Promotions' Oscar De La Hoya matched the fighter's purse of $2,000 from his last fight on October 20 to go toward the charity. The Brooklyn-raised Melson has compiled a record of 10-1-1, 4 KO's and is expected to fight again at the Barclays Center on the undercard of Danny Garcia – Zab Judah on February 9, 2013.
Melson and Zaccagnino, who dated for 6 ½ years and are now the best of friends, created 'Team Fight To Walk' whose mission is to raise awareness within the boxing community about the importance of stem cell research for spinal cord injuries. Paralyzed former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand and fellow boxers such as Steve “USS” Cunningham, Deandre “The Bull” Latimore, Hector “Machito” Camacho Jr., Demetrius “Boo” Andrade and Shawn Estrada, among many others, are members of the team.
Although the donated purses, a 2-to-1 match by Melson's employer Johnson & Johnson, and various fundraising efforts have raised $100,000 for the cause, there is still a long way to go in this fight. It will cost $2 million for 20 patients to undergo the trials at the first location, so Melson is painfully aware of the importance of mainstream publicity for this cause.
"You have more than enough people in wheelchairs that can donate a dollar or two to get the money but it's not being made public," Melson pointedly stated of the 1.3 million Americans who currently have spinal cord injuries.
Melson, the recent recipient of the Dick Steinberg Good Guy Award from the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, is determined to garner the much needed attention to raise more funds and bring current stem cell research to the forefront. His story has been featured in recent editions of Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com, and he is planning a fundraiser in May at BB Kings in Manhattan where he hopes he can inspire influential representatives of the boxing community to get involved and broaden the reach and impact of his fight.
In the meantime, Melson forges ahead with what has become his own personal mission in life to bring as much exposure to spinal cord injuries as possible and help get Zaccagnino, now 29, out of her wheelchair.
"He just took on my life as if it was his life. He felt that I wanted to find a cure, he felt that I wanted to walk, he felt that I wanted to accomplish all these things in life. No matter where our relationship goes, what turn it makes, he's like 'I'm here and I'm going to help you walk again'," Zaccagnino said of her committed partner and friend in the embedded video entitled 'Boyd Melson: Fighting For The Greater Good'.
Boyd Melson, a true soldier.
Please join Boyd and Christan in their fight to help find a cure for chronic spinal cord injury by visiting Team Fight To Walk and click 'donate just a dollar' at the top-right of the page.
Just A Dollar Please is an 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
Tags: Austin Trout, Boxing, Boyd Melson, Christan Zaccagnino, Erislandy Lara, Oscar De La Hoya